What is Therapeutic Foster Care?

Marty Paule

Therapeutic foster care, sometimes abbreviated as FTC, aims to help troubled adolescents and children by providing a healthy family or group home setting in which to support them both emotionally and physically. Foster parents involved in FTC receive special forms of support beyond that given traditional foster care parents. In most situations, therapeutic foster care parents work closely with professional caseworkers to develop and implement a treatment plan. Individualized for each foster child, these plans generally address health, social, educational, and behavioral issues. While most therapeutic foster care is provided in group home settings, the family home setting is considered optimal and may be less costly.

Troubled children may be placed in therapeutic foster care in the hopes of providing them with a supportive, loving environment.
Troubled children may be placed in therapeutic foster care in the hopes of providing them with a supportive, loving environment.

Individual therapeutic foster care programs take many different approaches to helping children deal with serious emotional issues, while all share certain characteristics. The foster parents receive substantial training both before and during foster care and maintain a high level of contact with the foster child's caseworkers. The stipend paid these parents is usually higher than that traditional foster parents receive. In most cases, family-based FTC foster parents are limited to one child at a time. Caseworkers working with FTC clients usually have smaller caseloads.

Adolescents experiencing severe emotional issues often receive therapeutic foster care in a group home setting. As with family-based situations, such programs are seen as preferable alternatives to institutionalizing children. Therapeutic group homes provide a structured environment in which a professional staff works closely with the foster child's school and healthcare providers. The staff usually also provides therapy and helps implement behavioral modification.

Therapeutic group homes can have an have an advantage in offering a setting that naturally lends itself to learning social skills. Most deal with between five and ten foster children at a time, depending on their special needs. Children are able to attend local schools while still being under the care of juvenile justice or social welfare agencies. The group home is also a good setting in which to help youths deal with their psychological issues through group therapy. Some therapeutic group homes depend more on individual psychotherapy.

A 1998 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and referenced in a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, has raised questions about the relative effectiveness of FTC foster homes versus group homes. Studying 79 males youths with histories of juvenile delinquency, it was found that those treated in family settings fared better. This suggests that the individual home setting is preferable if suitable foster parents can be recruited.

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